Archive | March, 2014

Pard as Nails

17 Mar

I’m going to let you in on a terrible secret.  It’s about Rolf Harris – the popular children’s entertainer and host of Rolf’s Cartoon Club.  Rolf has been living a lie, it would seem.  A dark truth has been concealed under his wobble board for years.  You know those cartoons that he used to draw so quickly using a felt marker pen?  Well, apparently – and I’m almost afraid to say this – Rolf was actually just drawing over faint pencil lines that had been pre-drawn on the paper.

Shocking, isn’t it?  It’s difficult to conceive of a greater abuse of trust.  And with children, as well.  Suffice to say, he’s taken a real tumble in my estimation. Can you tell what is yet?  No, but I suspect you can, Rolf, you bloody charlatan.

I can’t listen to Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport anymore without my blood boiling.  Just thinking about the man fills me with rage – something I expect Alan Pardew will have every sympathy with.  Pardew has his own issues with anger, you see.  In his eyes, the world is chock-full of duplicitous Australian performers, all queuing up to wrong either him or his team.  Whether it’s rival managers, match officials or opposition players, Pardew vents at them all like a Doberman in a cheap suit, barking through the railings.  The reality, though, is he’s only ever really battling against one thing and one thing only.  Himself.

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Rage can gatecrash any number of circumstances.  You might be driving a car, drinking in a pub, or watching your football team field Martin Demichelis.  All of a sudden, the red mist descends, and, before you know it, you’re gunning down your girlfriend through the bathroom door.

In the court of public opinion, Pardew no longer has a leg on which to stand.  It’s happened too many times now.  Shoving linesmen, squaring up to managers and, most recently, in a coup de grâce of fury, head-butting the opposition.  Pardew’s veil of composure is as easy to pierce as damp kitchen towel. 

Lord knows what else pushes the poor man’s buttons.  You can imagine Pardew gripping the edges of the dining table, battling back the anger when the lovely Mrs Pardew serves up peas at the evening meal.  How many *times* has Pards told the missus he doesn’t like peas?  The nerve of the woman was quite something.  The only “afters” dished out at this meal table will be the slide tackle Alan executes on his wife under the table.

She’ll cop an earful at the very least, you can count on that.  Like Manuel Pellegrini did when he had the brass neck to intervene on a conversation between Pardew and a fourth official.  The Chilean might only be eight years older than Pardew, but that didn’t stop the Begbie of the Touchline telling Pellegrini to “shut your noise, you f**king old c*nt”.  He’ll know not to mess in future.

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Mind you, who wouldn’t display a certain irascibility in Pardew’s position?  The man has spent three long years working for Mike Ashley, for heaven’s sake.  And the sportswear tycoon is hell bent on cashing in on any profit, no matter how damaging the sales are to the sinews of the Newcastle squad.  Andy Carroll, Demba Ba, Jose Enrique, Yohan Cabaye – Ashley really doesn’t have much concern for the going concern.  And, for the manager, that’s got to be a concern.  When the Amex comes calling, Pardew’s players start walking.

People mock Joe Kinnear but Pardew seems to have gotten worse since he left.  While Kinnear wasn’t the king of the transfer market that some might have hoped for, perhaps there were other, more subtle, qualities he was bringing to the table.  Was Kinnear an unlikely camomile, providing soothing tones at the interface between board and gaffer?  The calming ying to Angry Alan’s fiery yang?  It was a skillfully kept secret if so.

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In management, using your head typically involves adopting a pressing game or switching to three at the back.  For Pardew, it’s an altogether more literal gambit.  Nevertheless, the stadium ban seems a touch harsh.  Surely manacling Pardew to the subs bench would have sufficed.  Or a perspex wall could have been erected around the Toon dugout.  Human Rights law seems to stop us from doing almost anything these days, but I wonder if match officials couldn’t administer Pardew with a small electric shock every time he leaves the technical area.  For all we know, a few cautious volts dispersed throughout the nervous system is all the corrective conditioning that’s required. 

Something needs to change, though, that’s for sure.  Pardew’s a lucky boy and he ought to be counting his tetchy blessings that he’s still in a job.  The head-butt was a golden opportunity for Mike Ashley to rip up Pardew’s rather generous 8-year contract without having to pay a penny.  And Mr Sports Direct sure likes a bargain. 

In the end, having Ashley as a boss might actually be the thing that saved him.  Ashley, after all, is a man who willingly employed Dennis Wise – unchecked violence clearly isn’t a major concern of his.  And while Pardew kicks his heels during a record seven game ban, who will be taking his place on the touchline?  John Carver.  Not exactly a shrinking violet himself.  Somehow, you get the impression the fun’s not quite over at St Wonga Park.

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Pardew simply couldn’t believe the throw-in hadn’t gone Newcastle’s way.

Pardew simply couldn’t believe the throw-in hadn’t gone Newcastle’s way.

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Cast off your shackles, Mr Hodgson

4 Mar

The French call it “l’eau”, the Italians call it “aqua”, the Germans “wasser”, and the English call it “water”, which of course is what the stuff actually is.  But it doesn’t stop there with foreigners – they’ve got different names for all kinds of things.  Even their national teams go by a variety of monikers.  The Brazilians will be rooting for the “Seleção” this summer.  The Germans will be getting behind the “Nationalmannschaft”, the Dutch the “Oranje”.  And, with England the only home nation left in the competition, British people will be joining together to cheer on the “Three Lions” in Brazil.

Whatever you’re national tipple, everyone, by default, has a team.  And everyone looks forward to the treat of a major summer tournament.  It’s a bit of a shame, then, that domestic clubs seem so hell-bent on ruining the international game.

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A troubling evolution has occurred over the last ten years.  International football has become tolerated.  Once heralded, it is now endured.  The domestic game has, by self-appointment, assumed a sanctioning role – prepared to brook the occasional national team fixture, seemingly as a gesture of hospitality.  As Neville “Oxlade” Chamberlain found to his cost, these sorts of “well-meaning” concessions rarely come to much good.  The reality is that high-ranking domestic managers continue to whittle away international coaches’ authority with player withdrawals, complaints about injuries suffered, threats of compensation and sideswipes over international fixture scheduling.

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Arsene Wenger neatly summed up the rather poor attitude domestic participants have to the international game.  He likened international managers to joy-riding car thieves.  “[It] is like taking the car from his garage without even asking permission.  They will then use the car for 10 days and abandon it in a field without any petrol left in the tank.  We then have to recover it, but it is broken down.  Then a month later they will come to take your car again and, for good measure, you’re expected to be nice about it.”

This is all very well.  Except, of course, the car in question isn’t fulfilling a lifelong dream.  The car won’t get to swap shirts with Neymar at the end of the joyride.  Nor will it be presented with an embroidered cap that will instantly becoming one of its most treasured possessions.  I’ll defend Arsene Wenger to the hilt against all manner of criticism and airborne pizza toppings, but he demonstrated the exact sort of attitude we need to overcome here.

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It’s an issue of mentality as much as anything.  Eleanor Roosevelt once said that “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent”.  While a lovely sentiment in principle, the former First Lady clearly never had to deal with Jose Mourinho.  Consider The Strikerless One’s spat with the French national set-up…

Taking great caution with hyperbole, Mourinho once described Raymond Domenech as treating Claude Makelele “like a slave” for calling him up to play for France against Chelsea’s wishes (not against Makelele’s wishes, you understand – he was willing to play).  Poor old Domenech.  It must be a battle not to let self-doubt creep in when your behavior is being likened to the worst atrocity in history.  And all for the crime of wanting a bit of extra protection in front of the back four.

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Last season, it was alleged that Rio Ferdinand was threatened with not having his Manchester United contract renewed if he declared himself eligible to play for England again.  If true, it is a tragedy that this sort of pressure is brought to bear on players (even if, in Ferdinand’s case, he might now be lamenting a gilt-edged opportunity to have extricated himself from the Old Trafford sinking ship).  The covalent bonds of a national team simply cannot forge if there are such persistent countervailing domestic forces. 

The England squad is currently convening for their friendly against Denmark tomorrow evening.  Ask yourself, how likely is it that at least one premier league manager will bemoan either the timing of the fixture or an injury arising as a result of it?  As if fixture congestion and injuries are anything other than an inevitability of the game.

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International football must be allowed to regain its standing.  In search of a solution, I went down to Basement Floor 2 of Too Good Towers to see if our legal team had any thoughts on the matter.  By golly, there were some sun-deprived faces down there.  They’re an odious bunch, too, but the work they did in getting that restraining order lifted that Gareth Barry took out on me was nothing short of remarkable.  So I was all ears to their proposals.  After several hours of listening to them complain about getting paid too little, they came up with the idea of a Charter.

They suggested that the FA should request all 92 league clubs to enter into a binding resolution, whereby each club agrees that the English national team is to be given preeminence.  Each club gives the modest pledge not to interfere with England squad selection or publicly complain about the injuries and fixture congestion that arise from international matches (including friendlies and England youth team fixtures).  If all the clubs sign up to the Charter, nobody is prejudiced in doing so.  If any particular club feels unable to put pen to paper, their players are disbarred from selection for the national side. 

Having agreed to abide by the terms of the Charter, any manager or club official who contravenes it will receive a fine, with such fines compounded for repeat offenders.  The rationale for the proposal is clear – domestic clubs are allowed to profit to great extent through the provision of national leagues to play in by football associations.  The least they can do in return is not to actively frustrate the endeavours of the national team. 

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The relationship between the domestic and international game in football is unique.  Both thrive in terms of popularity to an extent that cannot be said of any other sport.  Like other special relationships, though, it’s recently gone a bit sour. 

The domestic game has turned into a bully, and denial of this reality isn’t going to help matters.  There’s no use in the international game covering up the bruises and telling itself that “the domestic game loves me really”.  This tactic didn’t work with Chris Brown and it sure as hell isn’t going to work with Jose Mourinho.  Enough is enough.  It’s time for the international game to reassert itself.

You can follow Sonny (@_SonnyPike) on Twitter or subscribe to Too Good for the English Game by clicking the “Follow” button at the bottom-right corner of this page (this button is mysteriously unavailable on the mobile version of the website).

Drastic measures were required to rehabilitate Mr Mourinho.
Drastic measures were required to rehabilitate Mr Mourinho.